Airlines Reviving Customer Service - My Family Travels

International carriers are developing new customer service initiatives for families to lure the next generation of travelers.

Family travelers know what little regard the US airlines show to families traveling with younger children. Yet on a positive note, Gulf Air (888/FLY-GULF) has a longstanding Sky Nanny service. Gulf, jointly owned by the Kingdom of Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates,  has served the Middle East, Europe and Asia since 1950. Each flight on its routes between Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and London and between Bahrain and Sydney will have a qualified Sky Nanny (recognizable by her bright blue apron) on board to attend to children under 12, whether they’re unaccompanied minors or traveling with adults.

Each flight attendant selected to be a Sky Nanny has undergone a course designed for Gulf Air by the prestigious nanny academy at Norland College (nannies to the Royals), comprising childcare, handling children’s meals, in-flight activities and behavioral issues. In addition to seating families with children under 12 in their own segregated section of the plane, Gulf provides special children’s entertainment channels, books and comics in English and Arabic, and has worked on new menus and snack options for its youngest passengers. 

Speaking of menus, at South African Airways (27 11 978-5313), known as SAA, a Kosher menu has been added to other family perks such as skycots, baby meals including pasteurized baby food for under-2s, snacks of milk, formula or fruit juice and cuddly toys on board for infants. The SAA chefs have also developed a “Child Meal” for children ages 2 to 6 years.  Best yet: Air Chefs and National Quality Solutions, in conjunction with SAA, launched a Kosher Hotline so passengers on SAA and several other airlines may request Kosher meal.

With the opening of a new lounge for unaccompanied minors at Paris-Orly Airport, Air France became the first of Europe’s major airlines to offer additional accommodation to young passengers. The lounge is equipped with Playstation3 gaming systems, flatscreen TVs as well as relaxing furniture and a collection of reading materials. The Air France lounge at Paris-Orly also provides complimentary snacks and will offer to escort young travelers to and from their flight.

Furthermore, Air France now offers a special gift set to all junior passengers, priority boarding for families traveling with infants, a special children’s menu for in-flight meals, and in some cases, a reduced fare for children accompanied by an adult. 

If your baby is going to the Caribbean or South America, from England, Toronto, New York, or Miami, why not fly her on BWIA West Indies Airways (800/JET-BWIA) and take advantage of their Bwee Babies program? Infants under 24 months, whether or not they’ve paid for a seat, will earn triple miles on their inaugural flight – not something even the Wright Brothers could claim!

Under-2s with a purchased airline ticket and their own carseat pay only taxes. Additional inflight BWee Babies amenities include spare diapers, family seating in bulkhead rows, specially reserved pillows and blankets, bottle warming on request, flight attendants ready to offer a helping hand when mom or dad needs to use the restroom; staggered meal service so that parents can feed baby before their own meal comes; overhead bins to stow your umbrella stroller and VIB Boarding Privileges so parents and little ones have time to get comfy before all those business people come aboard.

And don’t forget about the legal implications of traveling with a child abroad.  Parents traveling solo with their child must have documented, notarized permission from the other parent. In an effort to combat kidnappings, parental abduction, and custody disputes, more and more countries are refusing entries without such documentation.  Grandparents traveling with children, or kids traveling with a friend’s family, must also have notarized permission from both of the child’s legal guardians or parents. You can learn more about required travel documentation for minors by searching Family Travel Forum.

To find out if your airline caters to traveling babies, be sure to call ahead or ask an airline representitive at the airport if your flight offers baby amenities.

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